The Houston Texans dropped their third preseason game to the New Orleans Saints 31-23. The Texans came out smoking on offense and defense and then hit a lull that resulted in big plays for the Saints.
The core starters are done until week one in San Diego but this game didn't go without some takes from what happened on the field.
- Despite the Texans losing to the Saints, they won the only thing that really mattered, no serious injuries. There are some lingering issues like Wade Smith's knee, Whitney Mercilus' hamstring and Ed Reed's hip, but that is not bad for what has been happening around the league.
- The offensive line looked solid on their 9 play 69 yard touchdown drive. They dominated in the run game and were moving the Saints off the football. Throw in some good running by Ben Tate, it made it a lethal combination. If the Texans can run the ball like that during the season, it could lead to big things. It was the best they have looked in a series in over a season and it is a good sign for the lack of running game they produced in the first two preseason games.
- Earl Mitchell has come into his own as a player. He knows how to control the line of scrimmage and make centers' lives tough. Mitchell created pressure against Drew Brees and once again played some stout run defense. He will help protect the inside linebackers and be a nice complement to the defensive ends on both sides of him. The starting nose tackle is coming into his own for the Texans.
- Duane Brown has been an interesting follow during the preseason. He has been on record saying he lost weight this offseason and it seems to have taken some effect on how well he can anchor on his pass blocking technique. There has been more than one occasion where Brown has been moved with ease from rushers, and the Saints did it twice. They did not result in sacks but this is not the Brown that we have been accustomed too. This will be something to monitor moving forward, especially on how much the team depends on him.
- Plenty of criticism has been passed Derek Newton's way and after giving up a sack it is easy to get down on him. Newton has looked good in what they ask him to do in the run game and he showed he can pass protect. The big thing is being consistent, and that will come with time. Newton has already showed he is a better player than last season and entering into his second season as a starter it will only get better. Negatives will be pointed out but he had an overall good game for the Texans on Sunday.
- Rookie outside linebacker Willie Jefferson looked good early for the Texans and created some early pressure. There will be some tough times with Jefferson, especially in setting the edge and tackling. Jefferson was run over on a tackle he attempted, but at his weight this should come as no surprise. Jefferson gives the Texans a pass rushing threat on the edge that can play discipline when needed. He could easily be another solid find by the Texans' scouting department.
- Jared Crick played well and registered a quarterback sack. He moved well and this was probably his best performance of the preseason. He showed he can be more than a roster filler. What he showed on Sunday was the type of work ethic he had at training camp. His hustle was one of the more impressive things on the field, and he was a sideline to sideline player.
- Danieal Manning had a solid game in coverage and this was an area he really struggled with in 2012. He was on an island against Jimmy Graham and got on top of the route to force an incomplete pass. His play will be needed to help an inexperienced safety group for the Texans.
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- Inside linebacker Tim Dobbins made his first appearance for the preseason and it looked like he has been out of the loop for some time. At times, he looked uninspired on the field and not what he has been in the years past. Dobbins used to bring a tough nosed player in the middle but none of that was shown on Sunday. The special teams captain the past two seasons has been a slight disappointment this preseason for the Texans.
- Despite the penalty, Keshawn Martin showed why he is an important piece to the Texans punt return game. Martin had an explosive return that had a burst between the first wave of the Saints coverage team, a stiff arm, a spin move and a race for the corner of the endzone. It would have been a touchdown minus the penalty and this is an encouraging sign for a lackluster return unit from last season.
- Andre Johnson was Matt Schaub's favorite target (8 targets) which resulted in 7 receptions for 131 yards. Johnson even showed some wiggle with the football and made a defender miss in open field. He even had some nice run after the catch plays and a jump ball that he snatched out of the air. Johnson was lined up in the slot and wide, and it is the start of what the Texans are planning to do with him. Age may be a factor but the Texans are protecting one of their best offensive weapons with putting him in good situations to succeed. As long as Schaub is quarterbacking, expect Johnson to get his no matter how many defenders try to cover him.
- Runningback Ben Tate came out and ran strong behind some good offensive line play and the lead blocking of fullback Greg Jones. Tate averaged 6.7 yards a carry and showed signs of his 2011 self, when he was a nice complement for the Texans' offense. Tate is playing for a new contract and the Texans will probably get the good version of Tate in 2013.
- T.J. Yates looked solid today and more than likely locked up the backup quarterback position. He had the only touchdown of the night and went 7 of 9 for 73 yards and a quarterback rating of 137.5. It is hard to knock Yates and the job he has done this preseason. He has put together a good one where he has completed 69% of his passes. He has done what he has had to do and performed with what was in front of him in terms of personnel and pressure from Case Keenum. The competition pushed Yates and made him better as a player.
- The Texans' kicking game looks to be as good as ever with Randy Bullock and Shane Lechler. Bullock showed his leg off with a 55 yard field goal and 4 touch backs (5 kickoffs) and Lechler averaged 52 yards a punt. Lechler had a punt that he placed on the Saints' two yard line to pin them deep. This is a big upgrade from previous seasons and they could be big weapons for the season.
- Rookie Alec Lemon had a good game despite a dropped touchdown pass in the endzone. Lemon came back and capitalized on his second chance to punch it into the endzone with an 11 yard touchdown catch. He has a good feel for the game and on a broken play he was able to improvise and give Yates an outlet when he was flushed from the pocket. Lemon understands the game and it shows on how he reads the defense and makes plays. There is a firm belief than Lemon has a shot at making the practice squad and another solid preseason game helped him out.
- D.J. Swearinger has to adjust to what his season role will be and that is being the third safety and special teams player. He is still trying to hone his skills and one big thing for Swearinger is playing under control. He is losing his eyes when he tackles and after some first half missed tackles he refocused in the second half. In the second half, Swearinger was keeping his head up and wrapping up ball carriers and making sure tackles. It makes him a more complete player and if he is able to pick his spots to make big hits, they will come at the right time. He has all the tools to be successful at the NFL level and refining his game has become key for the rookie safety.
- Brandon Harris had a mixed bag of plays against the Saints. It started with an unnecessary block in the back that negated a punt return for a touchdown and later he had a "questionable" pass interference call that resulted in a big gain of 40 yards. Then Harris played some air tight coverage and looked good once again. Throw in the fact that he was one of the few sure tacklers late in the game for the Texans, Harris put together a decent game. He has to become more consistent and keep himself out of the situations that get him flagged. It seems like Harris is a constant flag magnet but he is slowly coming around as a player.
- Fullback Greg Jones made his mark today and showed what he can do in the run game. He was clearing holes for Tate and showed some violence in the hole against linebackers. Jones has been a great addition and his athleticism is underrated for a fullback. He could easily be one of the best pieces for the Texans offense in 2013.